Every two seconds in the United States, someone needs a blood transfusion(1).
Blood is a precious resource for healthcare workers, especially when it comes to emergency medicine.
The need for donor blood is huge – especially when it comes to type O blood, which is known as a universal donor.
Getting a blood transfusion of the right type of blood can be a matter of life or death for potential recipients. If a patient receives a transfusion of blood that doesn’t match their type, they could be at risk for any number of serious side effects – including death.
But now, scientists may have developed a way to transform the type of donor blood from type A or type B to a universal donor type, making blood transfusions much easier and more accessible.
The Result Of Years Of Research
Scientists have been exploring means of converting type A and B blood into type O blood for years – if these blood types could be turned into a universal donor type, it could make blood transfusions much less complicated, and save countless lives in the process.
Blood types are identified by certain structures known as “antigens”, which mark blood as being either type A, B, AB, or O. These antigens are what makes blood types unique, and what makes blood type matching so important when it comes to transfusions.
What researchers had previously discovered was that enzymes from certain bacteria can “clip” the antigens off blood cells – but not efficiently enough to render the blood into a universal donor type(2).
In a recent study from the University of British Columbia, however, Dr. Stephen G. Withers focused on improving the efficiency of the enzymes involved in this process, making them able to remove antigens up to 170 times faster than before(3).
The results are doubtlessly important for the field of medicine – they were able to render type A and B blood antigen-neutral, meaning it is more likely to be accepted by patients regardless of blood type.
Major Implications For Blood Donation
A means of transforming types A and B blood into universal donor blood with efficiency could mean the eventual end of the need to carefully type-match blood to potential transfusion recipients – streamlining the process of blood transfusion and potentially helping curb the number of fatalities which occur globally from lack of available blood resources.
Before the enzyme developed by UBC researchers can be used in a clinical setting, it must be made even more efficient, in order to eliminate all the antigens from type A and B blood cells. But researchers are confident that this is within their grasp.
“The concept is not new but until now we needed so much of the enzyme to make it work that it was impractical,” explained Steve Withers, a professor at the UBC Centre For Blood Research.
“Now I’m confident that we can take this a whole lot further.”(4)
Blood Donation Still Important
In the meantime, blood donation remains as vital as ever for maintaining the necessary supply of donor blood that hospitals need to save lives.
Finding when and where to donate blood can be as easy as a simple google search for blood services in your area – in Canada, Canadian Blood Services even has an online appointment-booking program for potential donors(5).